Genuine shifts of power within philanthropy can and will happen if the field reflects the diversities of the societies in which it operates, as well as the people and communities it serves. A crucial part of making pan-African and feminist philanthropies capable of addressing inequality is to ensure that it is not a tool for the powerful; but instead, an opportunity to remind ourselves of our own traditional ways of giving as Africans who embody feminist values and principles.
By ‘pan-African and feminist philanthropies’ we refer to philanthropic narratives and practices that value both everyday and institutionalised philanthropic practices in Africa; are rooted in concepts that prioritise African solidarity, collective action, independence and agency, and ally with African-led efforts to advance inclusive and intersectional political and feminist agendas for justice and liberation of all people of African descent. This, therefore, requires a degree of introspection and interrogation of not only the structures but the multiple dynamics within philanthropy, where we look at where problems and challenges are situated, and how, especially formally structured philanthropies can evolve to become more effective and reflective of the people and communities it serves. This was one of the discussions that we explored at the just concluded, Reimagining Pan-African and Feminist Philanthropies: Building Solidarity for a Transformation Agenda Indaba, organised by TrustAfrica and Urgent Action Fund-Africa (UAF-Africa).
We recognise that this is a difficult time for philanthropy, with multiple intersecting global crises including climate change. In Africa, rising fundamentalism, the rolling back of progressive human rights and social justice agendas, heightened militarisation, the shrinking of civic space, and the persistence of the Covid-19 pandemic, and deepened inequalities requires philanthropies to be more centred on these fast-unfolding realities. The shifting demographics and social trends are changing our notions of nationhood, society, and community beyond recognition. Despite this, there have been transformative, feminist, and social justice agendas in philanthropy which are gaining a foothold, building on decades of philanthropic advocacy for structural change led by African, Black, feminist, human rights, and Indigenous philanthropies.
We discussed how philanthropies go beyond the financial and embody the values of; equity, reciprocity, solidarity, and harmony steeped in feminist praxis. These values are entrenched in indigenous giving where we have seen groups of womn self-organising and rapidly responding to emergent situations through innovations and mechanisms that are pathways to responding to these. These innovations are borne of the need to respond to emergent situations by having visionary and skilled expertise developed through lived experiences, which take great leaps of faith in imagining how they change their world. Additionally, we spoke about how indigenous feminist philanthropies have been able to step back from the bureaucracy and busy-ness of submitting funding applications but instead have chosen to work from a place of seeing that some philanthropies can be done differently and better, for example self-organising to meet a need of a community member by word of mouth to mobilise resources. Furthermore, indigenous feminist philanthropies continue to shine a light on the prejudices current and past and have used these praxis and innovations as an instrument for changing the way that we think about traditional philanthropy.
During the three-day convening, we collectively explored philanthropies embodying a vision of abundance, where we continue to move away from philanthropy in the traditional capitalist sense. We have seen citizen philanthropy emerge in response to the various crises on the continent, in addition to the proliferation of indigenous philanthropic foundations that are grassroots initiated, led, and focused, further embracing traditional African ways of giving as inclusive, just, and intersectional. The ground is primed to shift the discourses and practices in global and pan-African and feminist philanthropies. We continue to question whether traditional philanthropy which is heavily anchored on ‘giving money and stepping away’ further entrenches orthodoxies of ‘how things are done’. Also, these very same entrenched orthodoxies at times lead to rigidity and resistance to change, with blind spots in decision-making that impact the prioritisation of agendas and ultimately the prevention of the development of better ways of working.
As pan-African feminists we are conscious of the how power can be used to create and reinforce systems of oppression within these orthodoxies which are rarely questioned or challenged, and how these make it extremely difficult to discuss and move beyond the past. We are increasingly pushing back against these dominant narratives where we: recognise the importance of supporting and/or connecting to the diversity of civic action, not just the professionalised civic spaces; recognise and respect narratives of African philanthropy that are inclusive of both embedded giving systems and formalised institutional resourcing; and embrace and model new ways of giving/investing that appreciate the importance of collective healing, solidarity ecosystems, constituency-leadership, long-term investments and collective organising. We remain attuned to the intersectionality of challenges and their replication within the current philanthropic space, with an appreciation of the breadth and depth of pan-African philanthropic practices – rooted in Ubuntu – collective humanity, identity, solidarity, and support.We are more and more challenging the notion of ‘doing business as usual’ which at times means that philanthropic organisations miss out on critical opportunities for impact. Therefore, we are flipping this notion on its head around deep-seated orthodoxies and how they can lead to dramatic improvements in practice and even point the way to fundamentally new models for doing business.
At the Indaba, we discussed non-traditional ways of giving, where we explored what philanthropies could look like when a pan-African and Feminist lens is applied, by looking beyond treasure in its traditional sense of being a monetary contribution but also at time and talent often less recognised as philanthropy. We talked about, Ubuntu, in our African traditions, where giving and sharing are a state of mind, an attitude, practice, an institution and an element of culture. It implies giving when one has anything to give, the true definition of time, talent, and treasure.
A true vision of abundance embodies resources that are unrestricted, unlimited and build sustainable reserves for crisis response in Africa. To truly embody and vision abundance, we would need to put in place progressive legislation that incentivises giving and givers on the African continent. Also, we need to embrace non-traditional ways of giving linked to fintech that facilitate small direct giving. Therefore, when resources are emanating from the African continent it strengthens the resilience of social justice and feminist movements. Furthermore, by embracing the use of narratives and storytelling that is empowering and affirming for resource mobilising, we are showcasing the impact of our philanthropies and challenging others to take on the mantel to support similar causes. These ideas and more were explored at the Reimagining Pan-African and Feminist Philanthropies Indaba.
Thus, giving is something gratuitous and of sheer uncalculating generosity without thought of any quid pro quo. This is what we experienced at the Reimagining Pan-African and Feminist Philanthropies, where we built our solidarity for the advancement of pan-African and feminist-led transformation in philanthropies. Commitments of over USD$520,000 were made by pan-African and feminist organisations, and activists. They gave in their own right, showing true belief and commitment in building a path by walking it. Further commitments from scholars in the form of scholarly articles and academically rigorous analysis speaking to pan-African and feminist philanthropies, institutions in the form of commitment to speak about our principles based on pan-African and feminist analysis as well as resourcing additional work to advance a truly pan-African and feminist philanthropic agenda and funding partners embraced the broader spectrum of philanthropies that goes beyond financial resources as a way of advancing truly pan-African and Feminist philanthropies values.
Immaculate Mugo is a Content Developer at Urgent Action Fund – Africa, and Tsitsi Marylin Midzi is Head Partnerships & Development at Urgent Action Fund – Africa.